“I dreamed quiet little dreams of someday being a speck on those sheer walls.”
In April 2002, I stood on top of the rim facing Picnic Lunch Wall. My dad and I had drove past Smith Rocks State Park in central Oregon when I was 11 and watched spring, snow, fall in light flurries on the gorge. I don’t remember climbing at that trip, but I couldn’t forget the names of a few routes I climb now… 5 Easy Pieces, Darkness at Noon… I dreamed quiet little dreams of someday being a speck on those sheer walls.
Unfamiliar places spark in me, excitement and wonder, but I’ve watched this sunset before. I can recognize these layers of orange beneath a width of a lavender sky, topped with blue fading lightly. Not just once, but I had seen them again and again over the years…until I left. I spent six years living across the pond, returning to visit just once.
When asked for my favorite place that I traveled, lived, or climbed, I answer Turkey. No hesitations. I’d never before seen such a sea, touched such rock. Even after three years of returning to the country, it’s new to me, so unfamiliar, that I’m in awe. Like the honeymoon stage of being newly in love. I woke up starry-eyed and amazed in a style that familiarity doesn’t incite. I don’t always like tufa tussling and yet something about the whole context, all the factors combined, made my time in Turkey some of my best climbing days yet.
Now I find myself back in Oregon, surrounded by license plates with douglas firs. The high desert smells the same as it did before I left the country; juniper trees and sagebrush monopolize my nose. More than I anticipated, the familiarity of climbing in the park where I spent days and weeks as a pre-teen and college student adds a sweet taste to the climbing.
Many times over, from the age of 12 to 21, I camped on the rim, and woke up to the view of the Dihedrals. I would sit up under my lean-to tarp and fill my tired lungs with the strength of the view of the golden tuff. Having a personal history with a route brings to it a layer of emotion that just adds to and builds on the experience. Not only do I have my own saga with this route, but this is a special route for the climbing community in general, the first of its grade at Smith.
This fall, I spent 27 minutes sending Darkness at Noon. Slow, steady, and cautious. At each rest and even while I moved, I could see myself from a far, from eight years ago when it felt like an unlikely potential, from ten years ago when it felt like a clear dream, and from sixteen years ago when it felt like my perfect future.
There’s a special sense of accomplishment that comes with just barely sticking moves, but to clip the chains and feel like I could keep climbing is another story entirely. Darkness didn’t go just barely, it was within my ability. Not that I’m much stronger than it, but that it’s a technical delicate route and found my way to dance upwards. Trying to fall asleep at night after, I thought about how I could do it better, how I’d love to do it again, how I found a way to fall in love all over again.